Brian Keogh at the European Club
Padraig Harrington sparkled in the sun at The European Club and confessed: “On days like this I miss my dad.”
The Dubliner hit a three under par 68 on a spectacular day at the Co Wicklow links to lead by two shots on five under par from Headfort’s Brendan McGovern with Waterville's David Higgins a shot further back after a 70.
With his mother Breda walking the fairways with the fans, Harrington enjoyed every minute of an afternoon that reminded him of his amateur days.
But he admitted that he missed the presence of his late father Paddy as he took another step towards his fourth Irish Professional Championship.
After carding four birdies and just one late bogey, Harrington said: “The weather is lovely. It has the feel of my amateur days with the crowds walking the fairways.
“I did actually say out there and it is one of the few times that I have been out on the golf course that I miss my dad.
“Back then he would be following me - if he wasn’t caddying - in the crowds very close by. As a pro I don’t get to experience that because of the ropes and we are a little bit distant from the crowds. But there is no hiding out here today.”
With no wind to trouble him, Harrington two-putted his fourth hole, the 13th, and rifled a seven iron to six inches at the short 14th to get to four under par.
Another seven-iron to 10 feet at the 18th followed by a majestic nine-iron on the fifth put him within sight of Tiger Woods’ course best of 67.
But he bogeyed the eighth from the middle of the fairway and then had to hole a 10 footer at the last to save par to take a slim two shot lead into the weekend
Happy to avoid a bogey-bogey finish, he said “Most of the day was pretty good. I hit it well off the tee and got it into play a lot. I created a number of chances, took a few birdies here and there and was happy to be four under.
“I was a little bit disappointed to bogey my second last hole from the middle of the fairway. Those are the ones I’m here to work on and a reminder of what I’m here to do.
“By virtue of the fact I’m getting ready for this week I’m giving this tournament 100 per cent. I want to get my game right here so I’m not trying to get it right next week.
“A lot of what I am working on is my focus. It’s probably better with a little light wind. If it was a heavy wind you’d be trying to hit into the middle of greens.”
Leading on four under after two early birdies, McGovern looked likely to slip back when he bogeyed the 16th and lost a ball on the 17th to run up a double bogey and turn in one over par.
But the former European Tour pro, 40, came back strongly with back nine birdies at the sixth and ninth for a 70 that left him just two behind Harrington on three under.
And he feels that if conditions remain as windless, he will have more of a chance of keeping pace with long-hitting Harrington.
McGovern said: “As long as I play my game round here I will do ok. Padraig is in a different league and he is a class act.
“But if conditions stay the same the advantage in length that Padraig will be eroded a bit. I will just play it one shot a time.
“It is a golf course that you have to keep your head on or you could take a seven, eight or nine on any hole. It suits the old dog for the hard road.”
Higgins had four birdies and three bogeys for a second 70 on the trot and hopes to rejoin Harrington for a Saturday showdown.
But former Walker Cup star Noel Fox, 33, is also there on level par after carding a one over par 72 on a windless morning.
And while he trails pal Harrington by five shots on level par, he knows The European Club can jump up and bite at any moment if the wind gets up.
Fox said: “I love playing here. It's my type of golf course. Having said that all you need is for the wind to pick up 10 miles an hour, to blow across the golf course and then it is a totally different animal. "
Ryder Cup hero Philip Walton was kicking himself after a double bogey finish left him seven shots off the pace on two over par alongside Mallow's Michael Collins
The Dubliner was one over par for the day playing the 18th but dumped a 135-yard wedge shot in the hazard short of the green for a costly six.
He said: “You have to concentrate on every shot, you just can't let up. Taking six at the last there sickens me after doing all the hard work.”